Bart D. Ehrman has written another book that caught my eye and became part of my summer reading: The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World. In seminary, we studied the events of the immediate centuries after the Resurrection in a class called Patristics – essentially studying the lives of the Church Fathers. The time ran up to and past the conversion of Constantine in the year 310 CE, thus making the Christian faith the official religion of the Empire.
Ehrman’s basic thesis is that, though Constantine is credited as a pivotal figure in Christianity’s growth and reach, simple demographics would have led the Christian faith to become the prominent faith with or without him. The way of Jesus was spreading rapidly. By the year 300 CE there 4 to 6 million Christians in the world.
A few takeaways about why and how:
The Apostle Paul is given his due. Whereas Jesus preached among the rural poor, Paul went almost exclusively to urban areas – where the population was. When Paul went out into the Roman world, he encountered pagan gentiles who often believed in many, often localized, gods. Had urged them to choose. For pagans, there was no interest or concern about the afterlife. Their faith revolved around rituals. Until they heard of Jesus.
Christians were expected to worship one God only, as in the case with Judaism. New believers had to leave behind their other gods.
Christians, more than Jews before them, were eager for new converts -- and there was no need for circumcision or dietary restrictions. Christians were convinced that they had to convert the entire world.
They did not only associate themselves with like-minded Christians.
On page 118 Ehrman states also: “Christianity prided itself as a religion of love.”
Christianity grew through a networks of family, friends, neighbors and those they encountered during the days.
Christianity was all-encompassing. It had an ethic and way of thinking about God.
Most new converts were lower-class and uneducated. More women than men were converted.
Community was an attraction. It offered regular weekly meetings.
Pg. 135, “rather than being a place, the church was a community.”
Christianity offered superior health care! When many pagans left the sick to fend for themselves, Christians took care of their sick and often died in epidemics doing just that.
A vision of the afterlife was painted for new converts.
Miracles were important in spreading the new faith.